Recently, there has been much media attention on cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin and the Distributed Ledger Technology (DLT) that underpins it. DLTs, of which blockchain is a version of, can be utilised in many sectors and applications. The aim of this project was to shed light on this evolving technology and what potential benefits and applications it could bring to the built environment. Through independent research and collaborative workshops with other interested industry partners a comprehensive introduction and review of potential applications and issues was created.
Through the Constructing Excellence industry network, a series of workshops were coordinated to focus on investigating the potential applications of blockchain and DLTs in the built environment, involving professionals from across the sector. At the time, very few individuals or organisations had much understanding of, or interaction with, this new technology group; with it so far being applied to only a few large-scale construction/manufacturing/supply-chain case studies.
The first of these took place in late September 2017, with the focus on understanding the initial thoughts and concerns regarding how these technologies could be used. It was evident that the uses are far reaching, although the degree of need varies between application areas. Consensus was that blockchain and DLTs are an exciting, potentially industry changing technology, particularly in areas that benefit from high levels of trust, security and accountability, such as resourcing and contracts. A common theme, however, was the need to be asking ‘How can distributed ledger technologies improve on the current?’, rather than ‘What do we need them for?’.
The second workshop had greater focus on specific areas of opportunity and identified key areas of further consideration. These are:
• Digital Passports
• Smart Contracts
• Connected Systems
From these workshop findings and independent research, a report was produced to summarise the key findings. Core to these findings was the suggestion that DLTs may not necessarily offer new methods but can enhance and add rigour and efficiency to systems that are often challenging in project management and delivery. There are technical obstacles to overcome and the realisation that DLTs can be private as well as public, some with devolved functions and others that can be directly controlled, requires further thought.
As with many possibilities in business, there needs to be clear return and value created; whether this value is social, environmental, economic or it’s the mitigation of risk in another sphere. DLTs can create this value and return but should be carefully selected to ensure the technology can be deployed effectively.